Tidying Up The Holiday Mess: The Coupledom Hangover

Blight on the New Year: The ornaments are boxed, the ball has dropped and the seasonal remains of the day have been put away yet there remains some unwanted detritus from the holiday past. Those sticky, hard-to-get-off-the-soles-of-your shoes type of goo where some clash or alienation has occurred, either within the Coupledom or between the Coupledom and the outsiders – an endless list of pickles to climb out of or try to ignore which place a bit of a blight on the New Year.

Typical Pickles: Amongst the more common are the generational type, where older folks want more time visiting and sharing with the younger generation than the younger members can supply. Families loaded with stroller-age offspring are hard to pin down, or suddenly may yearn to hunker down with their little family “this year” rather than join the hordes or open their doors to them. Or perhaps there are very few sightings of the college age kid, who came home with their laundry and then vanished as if magnetically pulled out of the house to attach themselves to that north pole of friendship.

The Coupledom gift exchange can provide some ticklish moments as well. One spouse is pleased and excited, the other decidedly not. Someone feels cheated, someone feels unappreciated.  And the  ever-popular pickle where one mate is convinced that they did most of the work, bought the gifts, made the meals, did the clean-up, while the other just “benefited from all my labors.” You can almost smell the smoke rising out of someone’s skull.

How To Tidy Up The Mess: The first task is to notice the tension in the air or the tightness in your chest and give it a name. Regarding your Coupledom, are you avoiding each other? Or perhaps it is someone else? Is the caller I.D. the key to your safety? Are you already dreading next holiday season? Are you all the way over on the other side of the bed and if it weren’t a king you would be in trouble? On Facebook less or postponing email responses to family members because you know that they are unhappy with you? Or you with them? Whatever the discomfort, notice it, identify it, give it a “feeling” name: anger, hurt, fear, guilt. And then ask your partner, mate, spouse, that person with whom you share a life, to help you work on things; to aid you in your challenge with others or be part of the collaborative effort needed to help your relationship with them. Remember, if one of you in the Coupledom is hurting, the entire Coupledom is suffering as well.

More Distance, Less Guilt: Distress triggered by awkward or hurtful exchanges with in-laws, siblings or other extended family can benefit from pooling the impressions of both spouses to come up with a viable means to move forward with these relationships. Never underestimate the usefulness of the non-blood-related partner’s insights. They have more distance, less guilt and greater objectivity, all of which can be enormously liberating. What may seem callous or not getting it, is actually a beneficial byproduct of the “outlaw” status and likely just what is needed.  Sometimes not having lived the family history is what allows the other to help you leave that history behind.

From A Different Lens: Behaviors that are hurtful or provocative to one partner in the Coupledom may have little emotional impact on the other. A good example is that of  the college age kid who spent most of the holiday “out” which caused pain to one parent yet was insignificant to the other. The difference in impact should not lead to a shouting match. Rather, providing support and empathy for the more hurting parent is the first order of business. Then the other parent can share their view of the behaviors through a different lens and ultimately the combined wisdom and experience of both parents should  yield a more stable and solid approach to their child going forward.

A Head’s Up: And then there is the Coupledom gook. Someone is unhappy and needs the airing and sharing of disappointments, the unmet expectations; perhaps feelings of betrayal or abandonment (“where were you when your parents were insulting me; your brother was hitting on me; Johnny threw up and the cat peed in the foyer.” “Why are your never satisfied with what I give you. That hurts too.”) We are not always going to be what the other wants no matter whether it is Christmas morning or Flag Day. And if someone needs more help next year, sit down together and write up a plan now, save it in a file and open it ten months later as a heads up, hey, let’s do it right this year.

In The Details: So much of the work of creating a good relationship is in the details, all year long. Anticipate and plan the holiday, identifying who are the important people in your lives, how best to include them in the holiday, while avoiding the traps of previous years.  And most vital, keep your Coupledom important and smart so that it can be the resource both of you rely on, all year long. You can be so much smarter each year, if you huddle after the latest “round” and come up with an improved set of tactics that deal with each other and with the world outside of your Coupledom. A simple example: if the gift exchange tends to bomb, then don’t buy each other individual gifts. Instead, decide on a joint activity to pour your Christmas money into: a trip, theater tickets, a big screen TV, a journey of discovery, a regular baby sitter. Avoid setting up disappointment. There are so many options. Look around you. Which couples seem to handle things smoothly? The smart couples!

No emotional hangovers after the ball descends in 2014. Nope. We will tidy this mess up right now.

© Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2013




One Response to “Tidying Up The Holiday Mess: The Coupledom Hangover”

  1. kim

    Love how you wrote this. Pickles, tickles, and blight. Learning how to improve never ends. The article made me smile, laugh and yes even tear up.
    The goal is always the smart couple. Thanks.


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